Eleanor Friedberger New View

[Frenchkiss; 2016]

Styles: mod rock, bar/library, carrying on
Others: The Kinks, Jon Brion, Wilco

Every once in a while (alright, it’s not that rare), I get sort of crushed under the realization that I’m never going to come to some kind of final understanding about our whole situation here. I’ve had some genuine personal breakthroughs, sure, but for every epiphany, there seems to come dozens if not hundreds of doubts about everything I hold true about this world. So much time spent pining for some resolution to the uncertainty that I can’t help but conclude that satisfying answers are about as far from guaranteed as things get in this life. Call it an overdependence on usual narrative structure or what have you, but when I’m in the thick of a bout of melancholy, this sense of aimless drift is as disheartening a feeling as I know.

Perhaps I need a new view. Discovery doesn’t need to come in the form of huge, sweeping statements. I mean, here we have Eleanor Friedberger, former Fiery Furnace, making yet another singer-songwriter record about as traditional as they come, still managing to find herself amidst the stream of Ray Davies and Paul McCartney ballads. Friedberger’s approach to folk rock is so simple that it actually lets her own voice do most of the thematic lifting, highlighting the composed, theatrical manner in which she delivers ostensibly playful lyrics and melodies. Her performance is poised, yet these songs detail an ambiguous emotional terrain that pervades the otherwise summery tone here, a tinge of irresolution in the beached sunset she seemingly stares down on the cover.

Although her days of progging out with her brother seem long gone now, Friedberger manages to carry some of that hyper-aware energy to the songs on New View. “Because I Asked You” bounces along like an old Nilsson ditty but with a confusing game of Q&A going on between Friedberger and a possibly reluctant lover: “Why would you want to take it slow?/ Or tell me something I don’t know?/ And when I say so, let it go?/ Why would you want to do that?/ Because I asked you.” Elsewhere, on the gorgeous, autumnal opener “He Never Mentioned His Mother,” Friedberger details the ambiguous dynamics at play in courtship: “I can still see you sitting on the edge of the bed/ Looking at me like it was something/ Walk over the bridge, and keep walking ahead/ Of you.” These are uncomplicated love songs, sure, but the emotions Friedberger is tapping into are those of disconnect, that grey area where even if love is certainly in the air, its nature and boundaries remain mysterious. Rather than going full-on honeymoon or dead-end breakup, New View treads a middle ground that would border on the mundane were it not for Friedberger’s own headstrong presence, a matter-of-fact reading that gives the potentially uncomfortable tension of the lyrics a healthy dollop of confidence.

By living in the present, unclear moment, Friedberger delivers a set of feel-good pop music about feeling, well, I don’t know, okay I guess? Her old-school pomp is fresh, but it betrays a song cycle that mimics the sentimentality of downer records while actually kind of being about the start of something new. That Friedberger approaches this doubt with such resolve — and her prettiest set of post-Furnaces material yet — is invigorating in and of itself, and in times of serious questioning and reflection, New View is a comforting friend to have on your side.

Links: Eleanor Friedberger - Frenchkiss

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